Milk, the new biopic starring Sean Penn about the late gay politician Harvey Milk, is receiving rave reviews as it opens across the US.

CNN describes Milk as “a terrific film” while the New York Times says that it is “a marvel” adding that the film’s “power lies in its uncanny balancing of nuance and scale, its ability to be about nearly everything — love, death, politics, sex, modernity — without losing sight of the intimate particulars of its story.”

Helmed by openly gay director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho), Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was assassinated at the age of 48 on November 27, 1978 by Dan White, a disgruntled city official.

Few critics have missed the timeliness of the film’s release; on the heels of the banning of same-sex marriage in California and other states, which many believe is leading to a more energised and active chapter in the gay rights movement.

According to the Ain’t It Cool News website, “Milk isn’t just the best gay civil rights movie ever made, it is probably the best civil rights film of the decade.”

While the cast of the film has been praised by critics the consensus is that Sean Penn’s performance in the title role will garner him an Oscar nomination: Variety notes that “the show belongs squarely to Penn” while the Huffington Post describes his performance as “glorious.”

The Hollywood Reporter says that “Penn is one of those actors in complete control of his entire instrument. He uses voice, body movements, line readings and something indefinable within his own psyche to transmigrate into another person’s body and mind.”

A South African release date has not yet been set for the film.

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